Do I Really Need Professional Photography, Part 2
(or, “What’s the best use of my time and money?”)
“OK,” says the artist, “So I’m convinced that I need great photography of my work if I am to successfully promote myself and my work in this day and time when there is so much digital and social media available to me. My next questions is, can I take my own photos? Why do I have to spend all that money on a photographer, when I have a camera and I can take a pretty good picture, myself?”
The fact is, it is possible. In all honesty, I have encountered the occasional artist who takes really good photos of his own work. It is rare. In fact, it is extremely rare. And when I do encounter it, I generally congratulate them on being able to master two crafts, their own and the craft of product photography. Some artists are like that, and I salute them.
Most of us are not (I consider myself an artist, so I know whereof I speak.) Most of us only have room and time in our lives to get really, really good at one thing, one medium, one kind of artistry. I know very few great potters who are great painters, or great sculptors who are great jewelers. And I know very few of any of these who are great photographers.
The fact is, photography is a craft and an art form and artistic discipline that is right there on a par with any of the other artistic media. It requires all of the same kinds things that it takes to be great at, say, painting, or sculpting, or making jewelry. It requires skill developed over many years. It requires dedication, it requires subtlety of judgement, and it requires the mastery of an extraordinarily complex set of tools. You only get really good at it by working really hard at it for a long period of time. (This should sound familiar.)
This is where I personally face one of my greatest challenges. The fact that these days everyone owns a camera means that suddenly everyone is a photographer. This tends to greatly devalue the craft and artistry that goes into photography when pursued with dedication. I inevitably run into artists who tell me, “Oh, I take my own photos,” with the obvious implication being that they think that anyone can take a good photo, its easy, and that they can take photos that are as good as mine.
But I often ask myself how they feel when someone is looking at their work, which is the labor of their love, their effort, their years of dedication and study and practice, and hears them say, “Oh, I could do that. I’m not going to buy that (pot, or ring, or painting or sculpture). I could make that myself.”
It feels pretty dismissive, doesn’t it? And let’s be frank here, kind of ignorant. No one who actually knows how much work it takes to actually get good at making jewelry, or blowing glass, or painting, or sculpting metal, would ever make such an uninformed statement. And yet we all hear it.
Personally, I understand what goes into creating fine art. I would never tell a professional potter, “Oh, I could make my own pots, I don’t need yours.” Or tell a jeweler, “I could make that ring at home, I don’t need to spend all that money on one you made.” Yet I hear it frequently about my own art and craft.
The fact is, I can make a pot. I can build a piece of furniture. I can make a piece of jewelry. I have done them all at one time or another. But I would never delude myself into thinking that the pot I made looked anything like one that Mark Hewitt made, or was the product of any kind of real artistry. Or that the ring I made had the remotest similarity to one made by Ben Dyer or Megan Clark. I would just be fooling myself.
I have been a photographer of one sort or another all of my professional life. I bring more than 30 years of very high-level professional experience to my photography. I have worked for major advertising agencies and production companies. I’ve worked in massive studios with cameras and lenses that cost more than my house.
In my own studio I have probably $75,000 worth of cameras, lenses, lighting equipment, computers, and software, and I use it all in what I do. And I know how to use it, because I have been working at improving my skills with these tools for 35 years. I am incredibly good at what I do, because I care deeply about it and I have poured myself into it for all of my adult life. The photographs I take of art are as good as those taken by any of the very best craft photographers in the country.
So imagine how I feel when someone tells me they don’t see any value in what I do, that they can take their own pictures (the implication being that they can do it as well as I do, it’s just taking pictures, after all)? Quite frankly, it is insulting. But that is their prerogative, and I can’t help them. If you don’t see the difference between a professional photo of a piece of art and a home-made one, I can’t teach you to see it.
The simple fact is, you can’t do what I do, any more than I can do what you, as an artist, do. (Or you could, if you were willing to put weeks and months and possibly years into learning it, buying and mastering the tools, and then working diligently to keep up with the ever-changing technology, in the same way that I could become proficient at jewelry design or painting or sculpting if I were willing to invest the time and energy — and had started a long time ago!)
So, my question then is this. Is this what you want to do with your time? Would you rather be learning photography, or would you prefer to be pursuing your art in the medium you know and love?
Stay Tuned for Part 3!